real life

What's the point of divorce?

They’re not together. But they’re still married?

The Undivorced. Sounds like a Clint Eastwood movie possibly. But no. It’s a term being used for a growing number of married couples who are separated, but make no plans for divorce. They’re part-time married, if you will. Think Courtney Cox and David Arquette. Technically separated (hey! he has a new girlfriend!) but legally not divorced. And very, very cosy.

Some do it for the kids to keep life as normal as possible. Others for the shared bank accounts. Or health insurance. They stay married because they have no plans to remarry or want to avoid admitting their marriage ‘failed’. They stay because they’re just too comfortable to leave. For others, it’s simply a case of what’s the point?

Officially getting divorced would mean hiring lawyers, custody arrangements and splitting assets. Which is messy and uncomfortable – and final.

Juliet Bridges wrote about her experience of the undivorced in an article in the UK’s Telegraph. Juliet wrote that although she and her husband had been “living separate lives for some time” they decided to stay married for the “sake of the kids”.

Eighteen months ago my husband stormed out of the family home saying he wanted a divorce. It wasn’t the first time the subject had come up. We’d been living separate lives for some time and an eventual separation seemed inevitable. Except, as it has turned out, it wasn’t, since nearly two years later we are still no closer to cutting the ties. What we have done instead is joined the ranks of the not-quite-married, or the great “undivorced”, as such people are increasingly referred to.

The reasons couples plod along in this unresolved way are as varied and manifold as relationships are complicated. In our case we decided to stay together for the sake of the kids, neither of us brave enough to watch those two small faces crumple as we announced the end the world as they knew it.

Juliet admits that living in “limbo land” can stop couples from moving on and can create false hopes of a relationship reconciliation. Dating rules become unclear and long separations can make divorce – if and when it happens – much, much harder.

For psychologist Dorothy Rowe, the growing number of limbo-marriages and half-hearted separations are a symptom of a modern malaise. “People are a bit too comfortable. At the back of their minds they feel they can still have everything. But the basic thing is, you can’t. You can’t get through this without some kind of suffering.”

For my part the decision not to get divorced is certainly an avoidance strategy. I don’t want to dig over all that painful stuff yet again.

Here’s a video from CBS in America on the undivorced, profiling a couple who separated – without lawyers or custody arrangements – and their kids who said they were thankful to their parents for for keeping their life “as normal as possible”. Hmmm…

Have you ever been in a relationship that has ended, but not really ended?

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